Body-Words of Love

I am fashioned as a galaxy,
Not as a solid substance but a mesh
Of atoms in their far complexity
Forming the pattern of my bone and flesh. 

Small solar systems are my eyes,
Muscle and sinew are composed of air.
Like comets flashing through the evening skies
My blood runs, ordered, arrogant, and fair.
Ten lifetimes distant is the nearest star,
And yet within my body, firm as wood,
Proton and electron separate are.
Bone is more fluid than my coursing blood.
What plan had God, so strict and empassioned
When He an island universe my body fashioned?
-Madeleine L’Engle

I am thinking tonight a lot about bodies. . .

. . . because of my in-laws who continue to struggle with their diagnoses of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  Helplessness at a body that is slowly failing and no longer responds the way it once did.  I am reminded of the many times I helped my mother with simple tasks in the years before she died.  The act of slipping socks over her feet became my song of love to her.

. . . because of a friend whose baby is sick with fever and vomiting as she cares for her and tends to her needs.  The soothing hands of a mother stroking damp skin as a balm for the body’s tenderness. 

. . . because of the migraines that have been coming more frequently lately and I find myself fighting against them instead of releasing to their demands.  My body is inviting me into rest, why do I resist?

. . . because of my sweet dog Tune who craves the affection that has been denied her for so many years and I wonder if I can ever make up for that loss.  Can I ever console her enough that she forgets her fear of being abandoned?

In the midst of so much exquisite fragility and tenderness, I am reminded too of the delight my body brings.  In the pleasure of a long hot bath, the wondrous touch of my beloved, a nourishing meal, the feel of rain on skin.  The marvelous wonder of bodies makes me dizzy.  I am fashioned as a galaxy, L’Engle writes in her poem.  I contain a vast sea within me of pulsing, beating, dancing beauty that is as wide as the universe.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with bodies and has made the quest for perfection of the body and denial of death into a multi-million dollar industry.  We are not taught how to live with the ambiguity that comes with embodied life, only to examine ourselves in parts.  We don’t know how to be with our sexuality in healthy and healing ways.

Theologian James Nelson writes: “Our human sexuality is a language as we are both called and given permission to become body-words of love. Indeed our sexuality—in its fullest and richest sense—is both the physiological and psychological grounding of our capacity to love.”

Body-words of love.   That phrase takes my breath away.  How do I allow my very body to become the fullest expression of love and tenderness in the world?  This body with its aches and  its loveliness.  This body that will one day become dust, but also sprang from my mother in a burst of desire for life. In all this attention we give to the perfection of the body, we undermine our capacity to become body-words of love.  We forget that we are called to the joy and the sorrow woven together.  No surgery can excise our mortality.  No procedure can remind us of our sheer giftedness, gift given to each other.

What are the ways you experience your body as a galaxy?  What are its delights and pains? Is there an opening in the midst of these where you can pour forth love?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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